Aug. 26—JACKSONVILLE — Despite Jacksonville State's starting running back never seeing the field, Rich Rodriguez's run game still carried the load.
Even though Anwar Lewis was out Saturday night because of an injury, the Gamecocks got plenty of production from the running back tandem of Ron Wiggins and Malik Jackson in the team's 17-14 victory over Texas-El Paso.
With both players getting 13 rushing attempts, Jackson racked up 76 yards and a touchdown while Wiggins totaled 63 yards and a touchdown. Wiggins also had two catches for 24 yards, while Jackson logged a 16-yard reception.
During the postgame news conference, Rodriguez bragged heavily on the two running backs and their contributions to the team in the win.
"Ronnie started taking off at the end of last year, he had a great spring," Rodriguez said. "Malik we knew about and we were glad when he transferred because I coached him at Monroe. He's a really good football player, and both guys have got great speed."
Rodriguez said that when Lewis returns, the team's depth at running back talent will be "a good issue to have."
"Anwar Lewis didn't play. He's our third guy, and we've got a couple of other running backs," Rodriguez said. "We're probably not the biggest running back room, but we've got some very athletic guys and we're pretty deep there."
For quarterback Zion Webb, who contributed 55 rushing yards of his own, seeing the talent that Jackson brings to the team gave him even more confidence in the team's ability to execute its offensive approach.
"I think it's amazing just to have him. He's so dynamic, man," Webb said. "We put him in different places. That's something we didn't even do today, so I think we're just going to have a lot of fun with those guys, especially when we get everybody on the field and get a chance to play."
Jackson, who was coached by Rodriguez at ULM, said that he's benefited heavily from working with the coaches, Lewis (who goes by Q) and Wiggins in the preseason.
"I'm just bringing that extra piece to the puzzle," Jackson said. "I'm learning from Q and Ron, so I'm really being a sponge just like I told you about two weeks ago, just taking the knowledge."
Wiggins, a graduate of Jacksonville High School, had one of the strongest showings in preseason camp with the absence of Lewis due to injury. Webb said that he was very proud to see the redshirt junior's hard work in preseason camp pay off against UTEP.
"Ron is just overall a great player, man," Webb said. "Not even from a standpoint of growing up, he's just matured a lot mentally, physically, he hit the weight room hard every day this summer there. A lot of people don't understand that we got in the film room a lot this summer, and following this game. We're just trying to beat film into him and stay healthy and let him do his thing."
With Webb hoping for even more improvement from the offense in the Gamecocks' game against UTEP, Lewis added to his quarterback's comments and hopes to further embrace the coaching staff's plan for the running backs.
"The coaches were telling us to take the base hits and you know the long ones will come," Jackson said. "I felt like we executed the plan like coming in pretty good. But just to piggyback on what Zion said, offensively we have to play better."
Sports Writer Thomas Ashworth: 256-236-1551. On Twitter: @ThomasAshworth0.